Gorter, Herman, 1864-1927 obituary - H. Canne Meijer

Herman Gorter (1864-1927), theoretician of left wing communism

Obituary of Dutch Council communist and poet, Herman Gorter.

Herman Gorter
Obituary by H.Canne Meijer

Herman Gorter died at Brussels , on September 15, 1927. He had gone to Switzerland from his home in Holland to renew his health, but he felt that the end of his life was near, and so he broke off his stay in Switzerland and tried to return home. But he was obliged to break his journey at Brussels, and he died the same night in an hotel. His dying was a brave and true as his living. He had death before his eyes ten hours before he died. And he spent the time arranging about his unpublished writings and issuing strict instructions that nobody should speak at his grave.

When the world war broke out, and the so called "Socialist" movement put itself in every country under the command and at the disposal of the National bourgeoisie, Herman Gorter did not fall. He impeached all the "theoreticians" who surrendered the proletariat to the capitalist class, and analysed the causes of the collapse of the Socialist movement, in his work, Imperialism, Social Democracy, and World War.

Herman Gorter was the son of a famous Dutch litterateur. He was born on November 26, 1864. He was keen student of the classics and became a teacher of Greek and Latin at the gymnasium. Here he astonished the literary World with his poem May. It is a poem devoted to the worship of nature in a language never heard before. He broke with tradition and established rules and expressed the feelings as they were actually felt. In other words, he placed poetry on the basis of truth. A storm of enthusiasm shocked the literary world and the poem was acknowledged to be the finest and best of its kind. Gorter gathered about him a group of young poets and developed the literary revolution, known as "The Movement of the Eighties". This was in 1880.

But Gorter soon perceived that this movement did not go very far. It affected nothing. It lacked depth. He sought for the cause and studied anew the ancient culture of Greece and Egypt to understand the reason of their powerful development. The result was expressed in an essay: Critique of the movement of the Eighties.

He studied philosophy, translated the Ethics of Spinoza, and reveled in Kant. Then he read Das Capital [sic]. In Marx he found what he wanted. He studied profoundly the writings of Marx and Engels.

In 1890, Gorter joined the Social Democratic Labour Party, S.D.A.P., in Holland. At first this party rejoiced in his membership. But he was too capable and too clever to please this party for long. He rapidly emerged as one of the greatest theoreticians on Communism and Marxism in europe, and one of the most powerful speakers in Holland. Het Volk, the social democratic organ, complained that Socialism was, to him, a fine dream, a holy unseizable ideal. It admitted he was a clear and convincing speaker, but added that he disrupted the party. Which means that he opposed Socialism to the political corruption of social democracy, to careerism, to the struggle for possession of the highest places in the capitalist state. To the "Socialist" parliamentarians there was nothing holy or unseizable. In the name of Trades Unionism and Social Democracy they were willing to become the murderers of the masses.

The tendency to smooth down the class struggle, the tendency to reformism, became more marked in the S.D.A.P. Armed with the critical weapon of Marxism, with the understanding given by historical materialism, Gorter exposed the capitalistic compromises and treacheries of the S.D.A.P. The fight became sharp and vigorous, and the powerful Marxian group was formed within the S.D.A.P. Most of this Group was expelled in 1909 and formed a Marxian Party under the title of the Social Democratic party. Gorter joined the S.D.P.

That year the S.D.P issued Gorter's work, Marxism and Revisionism. This work exposed the anti-socialist character of all revisionist activity. Down to the outbreak of the world war, the S.D.P. did good work by its clear analysis of capitalist society. Then a change came. The leaders, Wijnkoop and Ravensteijn, were elected to Parliament and turned immediately to opportunism. The syndicalist labourers of Holland, as an organised body, were opposed to "Prussianism" and inclined to sympathy with "Allied " imperialism. So Wijnkoop and V. Ravensteijn, who wanted the syndicalist workers' votes at the ballot box, upheld the "Allied cause" in parliament. This caused Gorter, who would not desert the irreconcilable class-struggle to publish his work, Imperialism, Social Democracy and World War. Gorter showed that it made no difference to the workers which of the Imperialist alliances won the war. For the workers in all lands the issue remained the same. All Imperialism had to be fought and destroyed. But Imperialism was not destroyed by capitalist wars. There was only one way in which the workers could destroy Imperialism: that was the way of world revolution. The workers had to oppose Socialism to war.

The Russian Revolution of October, 1917, found in Gorter an enthusiastic defender. But he was too sound a Marxian student not to see the double character of that revolution.To triumph, the revolution had to be a world revolution. Otherwise, it must retreat and cease to be. All forces, therefore, ought to have been released to bring the world revolution nearer.

With his friend, Anton Pannekoek, another much neglected famous Dutch Marxian student, Gorter analysed the Russian Revolution in the terms of historical materialism. They show how this revolution was in part, a proletarian, and in part, a farmer, that is, a capitalist revolution. For the farmers desired smallholding and private possession and division of the land. Against ten million workers, inclined to Socialist understanding, there were over one hundred million farmers, with capitalistic ideology. If the world revolution of the proletariat came to help, these ten millions would become part of the mighty proletariat that conquered and emancipated the world. But if the world revolution did not come to help, then it was determined by the class conditions existing in Russia that a new capitalistic period would set in. And the consequence would be that Russia would change from being the centre of world revolution, into a powerful ally of world Capitalism, allied to other capitalist states, in enmity to the working-class struggle.

Gorter traveled, in 1921, illegally, to the Third Congress of the Third International, to defend this viewpoint, as a delegate of the K.A.P.D. Lenin had chosen already for the retreat to capitalism. He had published his work on The Infantile Sickness of the Left Wing. And at the Congress the revolutionary proletarians, who would put an end to capitalism, were expelled from the Third International, and a bridge to capitalist politics was found in this slogan of the The United Front.

Gorter sharply replied to Lenin's Infantile Sickness in a small brochure, entitled Open Letter to Comrade Lenin. In a masterly demonstration, he showed how Lenin's tactic must break down the Russian Revolution of October 1917; must collapse the world struggle towards Socialism; and must entail the irreparable arrestment of the world revolution. Leninism would prolong the struggle and increase the cost in suffering and hardship to the workers.

Gorter showed that Lenin liquidated Communism not only as an expression of existence in Russia, but as a propaganda of the Communist Party. He developed the tactics of the Left Wing, that is, of Anti-Parliamentarism, against the capitalistic methods of Lenin, the retreat to worldwide parliamentarianism and and trades unionism, the dictatorship over the proletariat, and the gradual reduction and elimination of the Communist Parties in every land, to "legal" parties.

Gorter outlines the historic materialistic foundation of the Left Wing or anti-Parliamentarian tactics. He declared that the tactics of placing the shop committee in the centre of all class movement was not "'discovered' or 'invented' by the theoreticians". Every period of the class-struggle has its own laws, according to which the rank-and-file develops its own forces. The workers discovered that in those countries where they had made parliamentarians and and trades unionism possible, theory organisation they had built and developed opposed every proletarian action. So the shop committee became the form in which the proletarian psychic energy found its vent. Left-wing tactics were evolved by the proletarians themselves.

Gorter analysed the causes of this behaviour of the revolutionary proletariat, and explained, in his "Open Letter", that it was not an accidental deviation, but the inevitable expression of the class-struggle.

Gorter thought that Lenin did not understand western capitalism, and, therefore, erred in the tactics he urged on the workers of Western Europe. It is useless to speculate on this point today when Western civilisation is in chaos, and the East is ruined with war. First, Second, and Third Internationals have passed. The Fourth does not exist, and Anarchism has failed in France and Holland.

Gorter and Pannekoek developed the theoretical statement of the Left Wing. They declared that the proletarian is the only power for revolution, and must grow in class-consciousness and power-consciousness. Parliamentarism must be destroyed as the safety-valve of class society, intended to divert proletarian activities, and the trade unions must be repudiated, as parliamentarism on the industrial field, a ramification of parliamentarism. The Left Wing would not except the 21 points, and was expelled from the Third International. But Gorter viewed the breaking down of the third International as inevitable, and saw Communism before him, reviving and conquering at last, after the disasters caused by the Russian retreat.

When Gorter became a Socialist he issued a book of poems, which no longer had Nature for their theme, but the class-struggle. As he says in one of his poems, he "had found something much greater than Nature." He next worked at a great poem 500 pages, called Pan. He spent nine years, from 1907 to 1916, writing it. This work traces the history of the labour movement. In it, he sees the factory as a wonderful thing, the condensation of the spirit of mankind, the growth of generations, the parent of revolution and commonweal.

In the unpublished works of Gorter, there is one poem "De Arbeidersraad" (The Soviet Committee [or workers' council]). Gorter pictures the shop committee [as] the centre of revolution, bringing Communism into being. He wrote this poem with all his love for his class, the workers. But the ruling class of to-day, the world of bogus culture, can never understand how a great poem can centre around the theme of a Soviet Committee.

(Abridged and adapted by Guy Aldred from an article written for "The Commune" by the Dutch anti-parliamentarian, H. Canne Meijer.) From Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism by Guy A. Aldred.

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Jun 13 2010 04:49

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  • Gorter thought that Lenin did not understand Western capitalism, and for that reason erred in the tactics he urged on the workers of Western Europe.

    Henk Canne Meijer

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